Armodoxy for Today: The Unusual
The Gospels record a very supernatural, what is commonly called miraculous, event. Spotting miracles has become a popular pastime of many people of faith. A blind man sees, a woman’s bleeding stops, the deaf person hears. But today I will read you a story about a large scale miracle and ask that you identify the miracle, and here is a clue: it’s something very unusual.
St. Matthew records Jesus found himself being followed by thousands of people without a logistical game plan to accommodate the masses. He writes, “When Jesus saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’
Now remember, you’re searching for the miracle, what is truly unusual.
“The disciples said to Him, ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish.’ He said, ‘Bring them here to Me.” Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
“Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.” (Matthew 14:14-23)
Did you spot the miracle? Did you spot what is truly unusual about the incident described in this story? The obvious answer, that Jesus fed about 20,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread, sounds like a miracle, but remember this is Jesus doing it. It is not unusual for the Son of God. And yes, we can guesstimate a number between 15,000 to 20,000, considering the 5,000 men were there with their wives and children.
The bigger number is what follows, when it’s recorded that not only were the people fed but they collected 12 baskets of left-overs. This statement lays to rest any the doubt that the food was truly multiplied.
One of the first things that strikes me as unusual is that Jesus turns the matter over to his disciples and says, “You feed them.” In other words, you have the ability to do so: Take care of it! But the truly unusual event occurs afterwards. Jesus withdraws to pray!
Jesus is at the height of his popularity. Thousands are following him. He’s touching and healing the people physically and spiritually. He brings about one of the greatest of his miracles by feeding the mass assembled. And at the end of it, he withdraws and prays. That is unusual! Compare this to us. Do we pray when everything is going right? When we’re at the “top of our game”? Or, is more like when we are in need, hurting and have run out of options? The number of prayers we offer are directly increased in proportion to the difficulties we endure. For Jesus, prayer was a constant in his life, during good and bad times.
He taught us that our “Heavenly Father already knows your needs before you ask.” (Matthew 6:8) If this then is the case, then why do we pray? Jesus is telling us that the conventional definition of prayer, as conversation with God, is only a part of the story, a very small part. God knows our needs, but do we know them? Prayer is a conversation with God and also with our self, or in other words, with God who also lives within us and without us.
Throughout Scripture, we follow the life of Jesus as an example of living. He prays, he fasts, he loves unconditionally, these are all outward manifestations of the disciplined life. Prayer brings into focus those things that are important in our life. Jesus turned to the disciples and say, “You feed them.” We have the capacity within us to do the seemingly impossible. In a world troubled by war and plagued with hatred, solutions often seem impossible. When we turn to God in prayer, we hear His voice telling us, “You feed them.” This is the first step toward realizing and actualizing a plan for ultimate peace.
We pray today from the fourth hour of St. Nersess Shnorhali’s Confession with Faith, “Son of God, true God, who descended from the bosom of the Father, and took on flesh from the holy Virgin Mary for our salvation; crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, ascended in glory to the Father; I have sinned against heaven and before you; remember me the thief on the cross when you come into your kingdom. Amen.